By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Cool but creepy animated fantasy too scary for young kids.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Coraline ultimately learns that sometimes imperfect, messy lives aren't as bad as they seem. She realizes that her imperfect real parents are better than perfect-seeming fake ones, and her parents realize that they don't spend enough time with their daughter. Themes include self-control and gratitude.
Positive Role Models
Coraline's parents start out being impatient with and dismissive of her (and generally don't seem to enjoy having her around), but their perspective and behavior changes by the end of the movie. Coraline herself is spunky, brave, and resourceful, though she, too, has important lessons to learn about appreciating family. The Other Mother wants Coraline to behave a certain way and pursues her goals at any cost. Multi-generational friendships are formed.
Violence & Scariness
The movie has a very dark, creepy tone overall, and the Other Mother becomes witch-like and frightening. It's implied that she has more or less killed three other children. Some of her minions try to "get" Coraline and the Cat, but they don't succeed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two very buxom actresses wear barely-there costumes for their performance (one in a reference to Botticelli's famous Birth of Venus painting).
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Infrequent use of words like "crap" and "oh my God" and insults including "jerkwad," "idiot," "evil witch," and "stupid."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Coraline's mother thinks Mr. Bobinksy is a drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Coraline will scare young kids. Slightly less creepy than the book on which it was based, the movie is still quite dark, and the "other" world that Coraline discovers turns into a frightening, dangerous place where she could very well die (and other ghost children already have). Your young kids may be interested in seeing the movie thanks to the massive marketing campaign, but this isn't an age-appropriate pick for them. This movie deals with mature themes -- being careful what you wish for, thinking the grass is always greener, and being disappointed in your parents -- that are best suited for tweens and up. Language is mostly insults (like "jerkwad" and "idiot"), and sexuality is limited to two scantily dressed elderly actresses in one memorable scene.
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What's the Story?
CORALINE Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is an only child who's unhappy about moving to a new house with her self-absorbed parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), who are too busy working to spend any time with her. The other inhabitants of their building are an eccentric crew: Russian mouse-circus ringmaster Mr. Bobinksy (Ian McShane) and bickering actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French), who are about six decades past their prime. When Coraline (never CARoline) opens a small hidden door in her apartment, she discovers a secret passageway to a parallel other world where everything -- her parents, her house, her neighbors, her magical garden -- seems way better ... or is it? Eventually, Coraline's dream world reveals itself to be a frightening, perilous place.
Is It Any Good?
Director Henry Selick, a stop-motion master best known for The Nightmare Before Christmas, creates a magical, colorful nether-world that's also dark and disturbing. At first, in addition to offering Coraline attentive "Other" parents, the alternate universe boasts a dazzling garden and a fantastic circus and theater acts, courtesy of the Other neighbors. Coraline, along with the audience, gets swept into the magic -- but there's an unnerving edge to all of the perfection. Everyone has buttons for eyes, except for Coraline and a mysterious talking cat (Keith David) that warns Coraline that her Other Mother isn't as warm and loving as she seems.
The 3-D effects (Coraline is Hollywood's first 3-D stop-motion film) are cool without being overwhelming, and the story is a two-pronged cautionary tale -- for parents and kids not to take each other for granted, and for people not to dwell on whether the grass is greener, because it could all be a huge, horrifying charade. Coraline ultimately learns that sometimes imperfect, messy lives aren't always as bad as they seem. Considering how formulaic so many family movies are , Coraline is a refreshing and inventive film. While too intense for some tots, it's a memorable treat for families with thrill-seeking tweens and up.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Coraline's theme of wishing for a different, "better" life. Kids: Do you ever feel like Coraline? What about her parents made her initially prefer the Other Mother and Father?
How do both Coraline and her parents change over the course of the movie?
Do you think this movie is meant for little kids, or is it too scary?
How do the characters in Coraline demonstrate self-control and gratitude? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: February 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: July 21, 2009
- Cast: Dakota Fanning, John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher
- Director: Henry Selick
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Gratitude, Self-control
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor
- Last updated: March 28, 2023
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